Community

I’ve been posting these columns from years ago to get this blog going, and to archive these somewhere – but rereading them, I am struck by how simple they seem, almost naive. Has 16 years really changed my thinking? Not so much changed, as left me feeling a pressure towards sophistication. This piece seems like yearning for more simple times – while we are moving further into complexity.

Community

by Selene Vega

Santa Cruz CAMFT Newsletter, Sept./Oct. 1994, Therapists for Social Responsibility column

It seems like whatever topic we start out discussing in Therapists for Social Responsibility we end up talking about community. So many of us struggle to find or create a sense of community for ourselves, and as therapists we are often aware of what a difference community can make for our clients.

By “community” I don’t just mean the town that we live in, though the physical location where we spend our days can be a beginning. That home base is important – perhaps more important than we give it credit for. At this past meeting, each of us talked about our home and how we relate to it. From a physical description of the place that we live, we each moved into our feelings about that place – the healing and grounding of a garden, the freedom and creativity of a table in the house where projects can be spread out and ready to work on whenever the mood strikes, the frustration of streetlights that shine at us all night

As we went around the room, I noticed that part of the description always seemed to involve people – struggles with a roommate, neighbors that we feel a bond or a conflict with, a sense of how our space feels to those who visit us. We may have a relationship with our “place”, but our place is also a home to our relationships with people. Our sense of community starts here, from our homes. In other times and other places where there is less travel and transience, community expands from the home to the town, or at least the neighborhood. Our ancestors grew up surrounded by people they knew, with a sense of community based on history and familiarity and trust

Community today is not such a given. Often our community develops from co-workers, people we work together with on projects, friends we’ve grown relationships with from classes, or groups, or organizations we belong to. Sometimes our community feels scattered, as we may live too far to drop in for tea or to borrow a cup of flour. When we’re sick or lonely, we can feel isolated in a neighborhood of strangers

Though we started this past meeting with descriptions of our homes, we moved from that very personal vision into the overwhelmingly large issue of the failed crime bill. We tossed ideas and opinions back and forth, airing frustrations, disappointments, outrage, etc. with the attempts of our government to keep us safe from violence. But when we asked ourselves what truly COULD protect us from violence, it was not about government legislation. We found ourselves talking once again about community. If we lived in communities where we knew our neighbors and all watched out for each other, we could be safer. If children were raised in communities that felt secure, where there were more adults than just the parents who might be available to talk to, where the whole neighborhood felt like home, then perhaps gangs would feel less need to create their territories

Malidoma Patrice Somé , author of Ritual: Power, Healing and Community speaks of his village in West Africa where the children are welcome to eat in any house of the village for dinner. They just follow their noses to the culinary smells that appeal to them and show up at the door. He describes a world very different from ours, and one that we can’t really recreate here. But we can begin to think about what community means to us and how we might create it for ourselves, our families, our clients.